The recent attack aimed at New Eastern Outlook (NEO) and several of its authors once again exposes the infinite hypocrisy of US and European interests including across their media and among their supposed human rights advocates.
It also exposes the severe threat that exists to the national security of nations around the globe who lack control over platforms including social media used by their citizens to exchange information.
This lack of control over a nation’s information space is quickly becoming as dangerous as being unable to control and protect a nation’s physical space/territory.
NEO and at least one of its contributors had their Facebook and Twitter accounts deleted and were accused of “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” according to Facebook’s “newsroom.”
Their statement reads:
In the past week, we removed multiple Pages, Groups and accounts that were involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior on Facebook and Instagram.
It also reads:
We removed 12 Facebook accounts and 10 Facebook Pages for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior that originated in Thailand and focused primarily on Thailand and the US. The people behind this small network used fake accounts to create fictitious personas and run Pages, increase engagement, disseminate content, and also to drive people to off-platform blogs posing as news outlets. They also frequently shared divisive narratives and comments on topics including Thai politics, geopolitical issues like US-China relations, protests in Hong Kong, and criticism of democracy activists in Thailand. Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our review found that some of this activity was linked to an individual based in Thailand associated with New Eastern Outlook, a Russian government-funded journal based in Moscow.
In this single statement, Facebook reveals about itself that it, and it alone, decides what is and isn’t a “news outlet.”
Apparently the blogs the deleted Facebook pages linked to were “not” news outlets, though no criteria was provided by Facebook nor any evidence presented that these links did not meet whatever criteria Facebook used.
While Facebook claims that it did not delete the accounts based on their content, they contradicted themselves by clearly referring to the content in their statement as “divisive narratives and comments” which clearly challenged narratives and comments established by Western media organizations.
The statement first accuses the pages of “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” but then admits they were only able to link the pages to a single individual in Thailand. How does a single person “coordinate” with themselves? Again, Facebook doesn’t explain.
Finally, Facebook reveals that any association at all with Russia is apparently grounds for deletion despite nothing of the sort being included in their terms of service nor any specific explanation of this apparent policy made in their statement. New Eastern Outlook is indeed a Russian journal.
Other governments, especially the United States, fund journals and media platforms not only in the United States, but around the globe. Facebook and Twitter, for example, have not deleted the accounts of the virtual army of such journals and platforms funded by the US government funded and directed via the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).
NED-funded operations often operate well outside of the United States, while NEO is based in Russia’s capital, Moscow. NED-funded operations often don’t disclose their funding or affiliations.
Ironically, the accounts Facebook deleted in Thailand were proficient at exposing this funding to the public.
The bottom line here is that Facebook is a massive social media platform. It is also clearly very abusive, maintaining strict but arbitrary control over content on its networks, detached even from their own stated terms of service. It is a form of control that ultimately and clearly works in favor of special interests in Washington and against anyone Washington declares a villain.
Facebook would be bad enough as just a massive US social media platform, but the real problem arises considering its global reach.
Looking at Information Space as we do Physical Space
A nation’s information space is a lot like its physical space (or territory). The people of a nation operate in it, conduct commerce, exchange information, report news, and carry out a growing number of other economically, socially and politically important activities there. It is not entirely unlike a nation’s physical space where people conduct these same sort of activities.
A nation’s physical space would never be surrendered to a foreign government or corporation to control and decide who can and cannot use it and how it is used. But this is precisely what many nations around the globe have done regarding their information space.
Facebook is essentially that; a foreign corporation controlling a nation’s information space rather than its physical space. Facebook does this in many nations around the globe, deciding who can and cannot use that information space and how that information space is used.
A US corporation just decided that a Thailand-based writer associated with a political journal in Moscow is not allowed to operate in Thailand’s information space. It made that decision for Thailand. It admits in its statement that it worked, not with the Thai government or Thai law enforcement, but with “local civil society organizations,” almost certainly referring to US NED and corporate foundation-funded organizations like Human Rights Watch. Again, this is a clear violation of Thailand’s sovereignty, however minor this particular case may have been.
If it is not a legal violation of Thai sovereignty and an intrusion into their internal affairs impacting people living within their borders, it was certainly a violation and intrusion in principle.
Protecting Information Space
Nations like China and Russia understand the importance of information space.
Both nations also understand the critical importance of protecting it. Both nations have created and ensured the monopoly of their own versions of Facebook as well as other social media platforms. They also have their own versions of “Google” as well as platforms hosting blogs, videos, e-commerce and other essential services that make up a nation’s modern information space.
There is room for debate regarding how this control over Chinese and Russian information space is managed by their respective governments, but it is a debate the people of China and Russia are able to have, however restrictive it may or may not be, with people, organizations, corporations and governments within their own country, not with an untouchable Silicon Valley CEO thousands of miles away.
China and Russia created these alternatives and exercises control over their information space almost as vigorously as they defend their physical territory, understanding that their sovereignty depends as much on keeping foreign influence from dominating that space as it does keeping invading forces from crossing their border.
Smaller nations like Thailand, the subject of Facebook’s most recent “removal” campaign would benefit greatly from creating their own alternatives to Facebook, alternatives created, administered, and serving their interests rather than Silicon Valley’s or Washington’s.
Thais, for instance, cannot have any meaningful debate regarding Facebook’s policies, terms of service or their apparently arbitrary decision made independently of both since ultimately Facebook is a foreign corporation that does not answer to either the Thai people or the Thai government.
For China and Russia, both nations adpet at exporting arms to smaller nations affording them the ability to defend their physical territory, an opportunity exists to export the means for these smaller nations to likewise defend their information space.
By aiding these nations in pushing out abusive monopolies like Facebook, Beijing and Moscow will also benefit by watering down US control over global information space and the news and points of view US tech corporations “allow,” and providing more space for the sort criticism and scrutiny NEO and its authors were engaged in right before Facebook removed them.
Gunnar Ulson, a New York-based geopolitical analyst and writer especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.